Food & Drink

Memories by the Dozen at the Ponce Krispy Kreme

After a fire ravaged the 1965-built shop, a writer recalls sweet days and nights of hot glazed doughnuts in downtown Atlanta

Photo: John Spink / Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A fire at the landmark Krispy Kreme on Ponce de Leon Avenue early in the morning on February 10.

I took my father’s car keys late one night and snuck out. I picked up a friend. We sped toward the intersection of Ponce de Leon Avenue and Central Park Place, in downtown Atlanta, where a burgeoning teenage ritual took place: the devouring of half a dozen hot glazed Krispy Kremes in the car as Outkast’s Aquemini (usually) blasted from our speakers. Back then, in the nineties, Ponce was still a de facto dividing line between money and poverty, white and Black. The Krispy Kreme factory-store straddled that divide, acting as a kind of bridge. Joining the heterogeneous gathering of lotus-eaters under the glow of the Hot Now sign—the hippies, the homeless, the bleary-eyed and otherwise beleaguered—was necessary for a couple of well-off white kids from the northside driving daddy’s car. We all licked our fingers the same way. 

Back at home, I slipped in unnoticed, quite full and quite pleased with myself. The next day, I got a call from my father: How did you enjoy your dozen glazed doughnuts at 1:47 a.m., he asked, quite pleased with himself, too. Eventually, he admitted how he knew: I’d left an itemized and time-stamped receipt on the dash.

I did some math after learning that the Ponce Krispy Kreme, nearly sixty years old, was gutted by a fire early Wednesday morning—no one, thankfully, was hurt—right around the time I used to pull up to the drive-through in my teens and twenties. Brace yourself: I’ve probably eaten a thousand doughnuts there over my nearly four decades on earth. Not all of them after midnight, of course. One summer, when I was seven or eight, my mom arranged for a behind-the-scenes tour so my brother and I could see the closest thing to a Wonka Factory in Atlanta, waterfalls of glaze and all. A few years later, school carpool began to stop there once or twice a week. The six of us would jump out for our sugar rush. We were soon regulars, showing up after basketball games and, later, school dances. Back then, I always chose chocolate cream-filled. I eventually dabbled with raspberry-filled before settling, in adulthood, on hot glazed: A doughnut so delicious—so sweet and slightly sour and melted when fresh—that a hooked friend once pulled a sudden U-turn because he’d seen, out of the corner of his eye, the Hot Now sign lit up. He was broad-sided. We got the doughnuts after the cops left. This has happened to others, I’m sure. The smell alone could turn a ship.

There were solo visits as well. Lots of them. Time to process major heartbreak and minor heroism. Angst and animosity. I had the munchies a few times, too. That Krispy Kreme store was my last stop before driving to New Mexico where I ended up living for four years. (My pre-departure dozen didn’t make it to Arkansas.) There were no Krispy Kreme stores in Santa Fe, chief among its flaws. I high-fived the Ponce drive-through lady, who I faintly remembered—and who claimed to faintly remember me—when I finally came back. “How many dozen?” she asked.

This landmark store will come back, too. According to Shaquille O’Neal—who has owned the location since 2016—the Ponce Krispy Kreme “will bounce back better than ever.” Dad says I can drive his car—with him in it—when it opens back up. We just need to go at a reasonable hour.